for quality writing

Ken Borland



Ndumo Game Reserve 0

Posted on March 16, 2017 by Ken

 

A spectacular sky over Ndumu after an equally spectacular storm

A spectacular sky over Ndumu after an equally spectacular storm

Ndumo Game Reserve is known as one of the best bird-spotting places in the country, but most of the twitching efforts are concentrated around the sand, fig and riverine forests.

The south-western portion of the park is under-rated Acacia woodland and my latest trip to this Zululand gem produced a sighting that will live long in the memory as one of the most amazing things I’ve seen.

Gorgeous Bush Shrike generally sticks to dense cover and normally only offers a sneak-peek to the many who seek this quite dazzling, aptly-named bird.

IMG_1867[1]

Gorgeous Bush Shrike in one of its typical tangled thickets

It is one of Ndumo’s characteristic birds though, even if the beautiful, ringing “kong-kong-kowit” call is heard far more often than the bird is actually seen.

I had enjoyed an excellent sighting earlier in the day along the southern boundary fence of the park when I heard one calling next to the road. I was expecting to be looking for a bird skulking, as usual, low down in the bush and it took me a while to realise that the member of the pair that was actually calling was sitting out in the open!

IMG_1857[1]

Gorgeous Bush Shrike

But that sighting paled in comparison to what happened later, further down that road in the Paphukulu section as the sand forest thicket starts to open up into more open woodland.

I came across four Gorgeous Bush Shrike, calling and displaying, lifting their heads to expose their bright red throats, and I was able to follow them for a few hundred metres as they continued through the bushes on the side of the road!

One of the Gorgeous Bush Shrike briefly sitting out in the open

One of the Gorgeous Bush Shrike briefly sitting out in the open

This thorny woodland provides handy perches for birds via the boundary fence and the cattle farm outside offers different habitat to the bushveld inside the park, leading to plenty of sightings.

Steppe Buzzard is more a bird of the open habitats outside the park, but seeing as though their migration pattern follows mountains like the nearby Lebombos and this was late October, maybe the one grooming itself on a fence post was just taking a breather from its long journey.

Little Bee-Eater was also on the boundary fence and there were three Redbilled Oxpecker on a telephone pole.

Another migrant raptor, the Yellowbilled Kite, flew over and seemed to be eating something on the wing, while another skulker, the Sombre Bulbul, was kindly calling from the top of a tree for an easy tick.

A Sabota Lark was being unkindly bullied by a Rattling Cisticola (two typical bushveld species), while a group of four Plumcoloured Starlings were dashing about and the black-and-white wings of an African Hoopoe in flight caught the eye.

As the road curves northwards towards what once was the Matandeni Hide, two African Openbill were soaring overhead.

The Matendeni Hide is no more, but the NRC Picnic Spot is a pleasant stop, with Grey Sunbird chip-chip-chipping away in the trees. I was watching a Variable Skink climb one of those trees when suddenly a Redfronted Tinker Barbet alighted on it. What was strange was that the bird looked heat-stressed, with its beak wide open, and it was totally silent – unusual on a day that only reached 33°C for a bird that normally calls incessantly through even the hottest days!

Typical woodland birds like Blackbacked Puffback, Cardinal Woodpecker, Orangebreasted Bush Shrike and Common Scimitarbill were also present, while Crested Francolin and Red Duiker are often seen on the road to Ziposheni.

Another Ndumo special, the infrequent Caspian Tern, allowed for great views as it was flying close to the shore of the Nyamithi Pan.

Caspian Tern

Caspian Tern upperside

 

Caspian Tern underside

Caspian Tern underside

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This fever tree lined oasis is well worth paying closer attention to via a guided walk; on the last two occasions I have been to Ndumu, the drought meant there was no water around the hides, with all the water birds concentrated closer to the inlet near the Mjanshi road. While the egrets, flamingos and pelicans were all way to the left of the hide, where the water has retreated to, a Spurwinged Goose did present itself straight in front of the hide on the bone-dry pan!

As we crossed the Mjanshi Spruit on the guided walk, we were welcomed by a pair of Malachite Kingfisher and as the water pooled in the pan we spotted Wood Sandpiper, Saddlebilled Stork, Greenshank, Pied Avocet and a Grey Heron atop a Hippopotamus!

Smaller waders were plentiful too with Ringed Plover, Kittlitz’s Plover looking mean guarding their bit of dry land, Common and Curlew Sandpipers and a big flock of Little Stint, which looked like tiny dots on the pan. Broadbilled Rollers were in the fever trees.

Both Lesser and Greater Flamingo were present, along with Pinkbacked Pelican and Great White Pelican, which suddenly stampeded off the banks into the water, obviously mobbing a school of fish, although probably only the first ten pelicans caught anything!

Flamingos on Nyamithi Pan

Flamingos on Nyamithi Pan

Pelicans & Yellowbilled Storks on Nyamithi Pan

Pelicans & Yellowbilled Storks on Nyamithi Pan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ndumo campsite is also excellent for birds and I was given a very happy welcome to camp by an Nyala female and her ‘teenage’ daughter eating the pods of a Natal Mahogany tree very close to where I was pitching my tent.

As always, Little Swifts and Lesser Striped Swallows were zooming around the buildings, calling contentedly, while a Blackeyed Bulbul called cheerfully from a tree that was not unlike the Whomping Willow from the Harry Potter series.

Emeraldspotted Wood Dove

Hadeda Ibis provided a very noisy start to the next day, while Purplebanded Sunbird was up by the offices, where so many of the sunbirds seem to hang out.

A pair of Pied Crow have commandeered the communications mast in camp and croak loudly as they fly about, even attacking a drone that the staff were trying out!

Woollynecked Stork flew over camp, as did two displaying Cuckoo Hawk, while Yellowfronted Canary foraged on the sparse lawn. A pair of Yellowbellied Bulbul were sitting in a thicket with much wing-quivering going on.

Their Terrestrial Brownbul cousins were having a whale of a time at the bird bath close to my site, while a Bearded Robin sat by and watched.

Even while cooling off in the most-welcome swimming pool, birds can be spotted – a sub-adult African Fish Eagle was soaring majestically high above and White Helmetshrike were also seen.

Outside the main office, there is a lovely Marula tree and barely two metres off the ground, in the fork between two branches, is a Spotted Eagle Owl nest with at least one young, while a Wood Owl was spotted on the lawn next to the ablutions one evening.

The central portions of Ndumo are dominated by what is known as Mahemane Bush, a near-impenetrable thicket of inhospitable spiny trees and plants that must have been a nightmare for early travellers on the route to Delagoa Bay.

But the dense tangle is a perfect home for Apalises and a Yellowbreasted and a Rudd’s Apalis were having a skirmish, and in fact the rarer Rudd’s was more prominent on this trip than its common cousin.

As one heads north towards the Usutu River one comes across the clearing where the Diphini Hide once stood, overlooking the Mtikini tributary of the Usutu, which flows into Banzi Pan. Down below in the shadows amongst the Fever Trees was a Whitethroated Robin and a Greenbacked Camaroptera was busy stripping spider web off what looked like an egg casing. The little warbler-like bird got a bit tangled in the process but made off with quite a decent ball of webbing in the end, no doubt for use in sowing together its nest.

One can then turn south-west into more sand forest, with a giraffe deep inside this unusual habitat surprisingly being the first thing I saw on the Mabayeni Road.

The third day was set aside for the trip to Red Cliffs, one of my favourite excursions in any game reserve, anywhere.

Looking down at the Usutu River from Red Cliffs

Looking down at the Usutu River from Red Cliffs

The main road from camp was drier than usual, with the drought not having broken yet in early summer, but there was still plenty of birding activity, with quite the overnight storm having brought some much-needed rain.

An immature Southern Banded Snake Eagle flew into a leafless tree and stayed a good while, while there were five Purplecrested Lourie in a busy group, interacting and calling.

A five-strong group of Redbilled Helmetshrike included a couple of juveniles, while a Goldenbreasted Bunting went fluttering after an insect (they don’t just eat seeds).

Green Pigeon, Bluegrey Flycatcher, Goldenrumped Tinker Barbet and a little group of Chinspot Batis were present and Blackheaded Oriole was yet another bird gathering nesting material.

Red Cliffs was a hive of activity, with a Marsh Terrapin crossing the entrance road, no doubt coming from nearby Shokwe Pan and looking for a temporary pan made by the rain.

Two Yellowspotted Nicator were really unobtrusive even though they were calling loudly, in stark contrast to some Water Dikkop that were roosting calmly by some foliage on a sandbank of the Usutu River. Until a Southern Banded Snake Eagle flew over and then all hell broke loose!

A pair of Pied Kingfisher were hovering over the river and some Yellowbilled Stork were far upstream, but a Little Sparrowhawk, closer to hand, was given away by a Forktailed Drongo dive-bombing it.

Where is Ndumo?

Detailed map of Ndumo

Sightings List

Vervet Monkey

Nyala

Crested Guineafowl

Southern Banded Snake Eagle

Forktailed Drongo

Little Swift

Lesser Striped Swallow

Emeraldspotted Wood Dove

Blackeyed Bulbul

Hadeda Ibis

Purplebanded Sunbird

Brownhooded Kingfisher

Impala

Crowned Hornbill

Purplecrested Lourie

Southern Black Flycatcher

Browncrowned Tchagra

Little Bee-Eater

Fantailed Flycatcher

Southern Black Tit

Cape White-Eye

Redbilled Oxpecker

Gorgeous Bush Shrike

Egyptian Goose

Whitebellied Sunbird

Steppe Buzzard

Yellowbilled Kite

Whitebrowed Scrub Robin

Sombre Bulbul

Longbilled Crombec

Yellow Weaver

Sabota Lark

Plumcoloured Starling

Glossy Starling

African Hoopoe

Yellowbilled Hornbill

African Openbill

Grey Sunbird

Spottedbacked Weaver

Variable Skink

Redfronted Tinker Barbet

Blackbacked Puffback

Cardinal Woodpecker

European Swallow

Orangebreasted Bush Shrike

Common Scimitarbill

Crested Francolin

Red Duiker

Redbilled Helmetshrike

Bateleur

Striped Kingfisher

Blue Wildebeest

Plains Zebra

Goldenbreasted Bunting

Pied Crow

Woollynecked Stork

Pallid Flycatcher

Rattling Cisticola

Grey Duiker

Kurrichane Thrush

Yellowbreasted Apalis

Rudd’s Apalis

Whitethroated Robin

Greenbacked Camaroptera

Giraffe

European Bee-Eater

Goldentailed Woodpecker

Black Kite

Rock Monitor

Redeyed Dove

Goldenrumped Tinker Barbet

Yellowfronted Canary

Yellowthroated Sparrow

Cuckoo Hawk

Yellowbellied Bulbul

African Fish Eagle

Paradise Flycatcher

Great White Egret

Lesser Flamingo

Spurwinged Goose

Pinkbacked Pelican

Trumpeter Hornbill

Striped Skink

Blackheaded Oriole

Chinspot Batis

Marsh Terrapin

Yellowspotted Nicator

Blacksmith Plover

Water Dikkop

Threebanded Plover

Yellowbilled Stork

Blackwinged Stilt

Blackbellied Starling

Greenbacked Heron

African Pied Wagtail

Little Sparrowhawk

Pied Kingfisher

White Helmetshrike

Cape Dwarf Gecko

Wood Owl

Green Pigeon

Bluegrey Flycatcher

Malachite Kingfisher

Wood Sandpiper

Saddlebilled Stork

Greater Honeyguide

Greenshank

Broadbilled Roller

Pied Avocet

Grey Heron

Ringed Plover

Kittlitz’s Plover

Common Sandpiper

Curlew Sandpiper

Little Stint

Hippopotamus

Nile Crocodile

Greater Flamingo

Goliath Heron

Collared Sunbird

Caspian Tern

Great White Pelican

African Spoonbill

Whitebreasted Cormorant

Little Egret

Terrestrial Bulbul

Bearded Robin

Spotted Eagle Owl

Warthog

 

Punda Maria, Pafuri & Crooks Corner 0

Posted on May 21, 2015 by Ken

Crooks Corner - the confluence of the Luvuvhu and Limpopo Rivers

Crooks Corner – the confluence of the Luvuvhu and Limpopo Rivers

Crooks Corner, which provides an amazing diversity of birds thanks to the combination of tropical riverine forest and sandveld, is one of those mystical, frontier places where you expect anything to turn up and is the north-eastern tip of Kruger National Park, at the end of the S63 Luvuvhu River Drive.

The confluence of the Limpopo and Luvuvhu rivers is called Crooks Corner because it was here, where the borders of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique meet, that scoundrels and rogues of a century ago would hide out and merely skip across the sandbars into another country when justice came a-looking.

There’s always something interesting in the dense forest or along the rivers at Crooks Corner, but the surrounding area is also great for birds and having that sense of expectation that something unusual is lurking just around the next bend is always exciting.

Heading back from Crooks Corner, away from the rivers in the direction of the Pafuri Border Gate with Mozambique, the road goes through an area of open Lala Palm savanna and then into Mopane forest that is fringed by Fever Trees.

Some little pools had formed below these Fever Trees which I initially drove past. But a hunch – you must always follow them! – made me go back and study the inundated areas more closely.

There were some baboons foraging on the ground and there, perched on a stick rising about a metre above the ground, was the distinct shape of a tiny heron.

Closer examination revealed the scarce Dwarf Bittern – only the second one I’ve seen. (The first was at Ndumo, also on the edge of a quiet pool in a well-wooded area).

The Dwarf Bittern is famous for its nomadic lifestyle, arriving in a place after good rains have led to local flooding, having an uncanny ability to find such areas within days of them being inundated.

It’s an enigmatic, secretive bird – partly nocturnal – and a much sought-after but seldom-seen tropical visitor.

Being mid-January, there were plenty of other pools scattered around the sandveld and the sweetveld grasslands on basalt, and just before the S63 Luvuvhu River Drive, Yellowbilled and White Storks, Water Dikkop and Little Bee-Eater were congregated around the water-filled depressions.

Turning on to the S63, the hundreds of Whitebacked Vultures either in the trees or circling in the sky soon became evident. There were 66 in two adjacent dead trees alone, with a few Lappetfaced Vultures among them.

Lappetfaced Vulture on the S63

Lappetfaced Vulture on the S63

Longtailed Starlings scratching around, Whitefronted Bee-Eaters swooping off the banks of the river, the odd Whitecrowned Plover on the sandbanks and Greenbacked Heron are the other typical birds of the S63, while a juvenile African Hawk Eagle was flying above the riverine forest.

The grassland around the Lala Palm savanna boasted Whitewinged Widow and a Steelblue Widowfinch was in a Fever Tree on the fringes of the forest, where a group of stately Ground Hornbill were strolling along and a Gymnogene was quartering nearby.

The viewpoint at Crooks Corner offered up Pied Kingfisher and Greenshank, while a Giant Kingfisher was hunting in front of the Pafuri picnic site and a Great White Egret was in the Luvuvhu River. Looking over the river from the main bridge, Rock Martin (and not Brownthroated as you’d expect over water), Little Swift and Wiretailed Swallow were all zooming about, while a Tropical Boubou was on the bank.

The beautiful Melba Finch was in the Acacia thickets as I was leaving Pafuri, the road back to Punda Maria passing through undulating grasslands studded with Baobabs, where all sorts of interesting sightings have been made.

Klopperfontein is always worth visiting and there was a solitary Hippopotamus lying in the dam, while a male Knob-billed Duck and a younger bloke had some territorial skirmishes. Ruff, Redbilled Teal and African Jacana were the other waterbirds present, while European Roller, Swainson’s Francolin, European Bee-Eater, Longtailed Shrike, Pintailed Whydah and Redbacked Shrike are common in the grassland around the dam and drift.

The Amur Falcon is the most common raptor in this habitat and one was sitting quite low down doing some serious maintenance on its heavily-barred tail.

A pair of Whiteheaded Vulture flew overhead and Wahlberg’s Eagle was also patrolling around, but the most fascinating hunter in action was a European Cuckoo sitting on top of a low shrub. It somehow spotted a caterpillar at 90° from it, about five metres away, and immediately swooped on to it. From there it flew briefly into a tree to devour its favourite food before making another sortie on to some rocks and boulders to catch another caterpillar. For a normally shy bird, this was a wonderful sighting.

The H1-8 tar road goes through open savanna grassland with stunted Mopane and is good for raptors, with Steppe Buzzard and Brown Snake Eagle prominent on this occasion. A Striped Cuckoo also posed beautifully.

Heading back towards Punda Maria on the H13-1 takes one through mature Mopane forest and Purple Roller and a very confusing juvenile Blackchested Snake Eagle on top of a dead tree were seen. A small flock of Redbilled Helmetshrike flew into a Tree Mopane making their typical growling calls.

There are also patches of mixed woodland along the H13-1 and seemingly in the middle of this forest stood a gorgeous Saddlebilled Stork on an exposed branch. There must have been a spruit nearby, and the threatened member of the Avian Big Six looked mildly embarrassed by how beautiful it was with its combination of black, white, red and yellow.

Saddlebilled Stork up a tree!

Saddlebilled Stork up a tree!

Groundscraper Thrush was another bird which I did not expect to see high up on top of a dead tree, but perhaps the lack of short grass below forced it up into the heavens.

A Bennett’s Woodpecker and an African Hoopoe were together at a dead log, the Woodpecker on top and the Hoopoe at ground level.

A friendly female Bushbuck

A friendly female Bushbuck

Two lovely female bushbuck welcomed me back to camp after an idyllic day and Chinspot Batis, House Martin, Bateleur, Grey Hornbill, Blackbacked Puffback and Greybacked Camaroptera (on the Flycatcher trail behind the reception) are easily seen at Punda Maria, one of the best bird-watching camps in Kruger, an island of sandveld within the sea of Mopane. The camp also has a waterhole just outside the fence which has a marvellous hide overlooking it and Hamerkop, Marabou Stork, Bronze Mannikin and Common Waxbill (both feeding on the seeds of the rank vegetation around the water) were there, along with plenty of Buffalo, a few Elephant and some antelope.

The beautiful Gumbandebvu Hills and their magnificent sandveld woodlands surround Punda Maria and provide great birding. Driving around close to camp provided a flock of 15 Brownheaded Parrot and then numerous others of this threatened gem, indicating that many of the wonderful trees in the area were probably fruiting.

One of the big herds of Buffalo around Punda Maria was enjoying a marvellous mudbath – one individual was having such an awesome spa-day that it had all four feet in the air and was bellowing like a Lion!

The Buffalo having a wonderful spa-day in the mud!

The Buffalo having a wonderful spa-day in the mud!

Redbilled and Yellowbilled Oxpeckers were together with this herd, with the scarcer Yellowbilled tending to be on the young Buffalo and the Redbilled on the adults.

Redbilled Hornbill, Greater Kudu, Plumcoloured Starling, Nyala, Carmine Bee-Eater (using the telephone line in front of the staff quarters), and Blackheaded Oriole are also inhabitants of this beautiful area, which is most effectively explored by taking the circular Mahonie Loop (S99), one of my absolute favourite drives in Kruger.

All sorts of exotic calls ring out from the broadleafed woodland and a Whitebrowed Scrub Robin was on top of a tree, calling away, while a Jacobin Cuckoo was a bit more shy at the Witsand waterhole. Black Widowfinch, Green Pigeon, Browncrowned Tchagra, Paradise Flycatcher and Marabou Stork were also spotted.

The Dzundzwini Loop south-east of Punda Maria (S58) provides a break from the tall stands of Mopane with more marvellous mixed woodland.

A beautiful Woodland Kingfisher was sitting on a low shrub, unusually for a bird that is normally perched on trees, while another tropical intra-African migrant, the equally spectacular Broadbilled Roller, was up in the high branches as one would expect. Continuing the theme of weird birding pairs, a Crested Francolin was sitting in a bush with a whole bunch of Grey Louries!

Waterbuck and Tawny Eagle were present at the Dzundzwini Spring, marked by a big Sausage Tree at the base of the hill.

The H1-7 tar road that takes one from Punda Maria to Shingwedzi goes through a mixture of palm savanna and open Mopane shrubveld and a Blackcrowned Tchagra was singing beautifully, as only they can, while just a single Monotonous Lark was also calling away, perhaps trying to hail his mates.

The call of the Tawnyflanked Prinia was also heard all around the wetlands of the Shisha River System but a sighting was proving elusive until I finally spotted one in a Mopane tree.

Thulamila Koppie is a short drive from Punda Maria camp and again offers a mixture of woodland trees. The road to the top of the koppie – at 604m – is quite steep but it had been freshly graded on this day and Jameson’s Firefinch was amongst other finches and waxbills enjoying what had been thrown up by the maintenance team.

Sightings list

Elephant

Buffalo

House Martin

Bateleur

Grey Hornbill

Hamerkop

Rattling Cisticola

European Swallow

Brownheaded Parrot

Grey Lourie

Natal Francolin

Slender Mongoose

Forktailed Drongo

Yellowbilled Oxpecker

Redbilled Oxpecker

Greater Blue-Eared Starling

Redbilled Hornbill

Warthog

Cape Turtle Dove

Impala

Greater Kudu

Plumcoloured Starling

Nyala

Blackheaded Oriole

Plains Zebra

Common Rough-Scaled Plated Lizard

European Roller

Swainson’s Francolin

European Bee-Eater

Amur Falcon

Longtailed Shrike

Pintailed Whydah

Whiteheaded Vulture

Southern Masked Weaver

European Cuckoo

Redbilled Teal

Blacksmith Plover

Hippopotamus

African Fish Eagle

Knob-billed Duck

Grey Heron

Marsh Terrapin

Chacma Baboon

Wahlberg’s Eagle

Common Moorhen

African Jacana

Egyptian Goose

Redbacked Shrike

Laughing Dove

Steenbok

Blue Wildebeest

Cinnamonbreasted Rock Bunting

Steppe Buzzard

Brown Snake Eagle

Purple Roller

Blackchested Snake Eagle

Redbilled Helmetshrike

Saddlebilled Stork

Bushbuck

Chinspot Batis

Southern Greyheaded Sparrow

Spotted Flycatcher

Striped Skink

Blackeyed Bulbul

Carmine Bee-Eater

Lilacbreasted Roller

Southern Yellowbilled Hornbill

Giraffe

White Helmetshrike

Groundscraper Thrush

Arrowmarked Babbler

African Hoopoe

Bennett’s Woodpecker

Redbilled Buffalo Weaver

Tree Squirrel

Woodland Kingfisher

Broadbilled Roller

Crested Francolin

Emeraldspotted Wood Dove

Redbilled Woodhoopoe

Whitebacked Vulture

Moreau’s Tropical House Gecko

Blackbacked Puffback

Brownhooded Kingfisher

Whitebrowed Scrub Robin

Yellowfronted Canary

Jacobin Cuckoo

Black Widowfinch

Green Pigeon

Browncrowned Tchagra

Paradise Flycatcher

Whitebellied Sunbird

Blue Waxbill

Marabou Stork

Bronze Mannikin

Common Waxbill

Vervet Monkey

Waterbuck

Tawny Eagle

Blackcrowned Tchagra

Tawnyflanked Prinia

Monotonous Lark

Crested Barbet

Striped Cuckoo

Longbilled Crombec

Water Dikkop

Little Bee-Eater

Yellowbilled Stork

Yellowbilled Kite

White Stork

Lesser Striped Swallow

Lappetfaced Vulture

Redeyed Dove

Longtailed Starling

Whitefronted Bee-Eater

Redbilled Quelea

Whitecrowned Plover

African Pied Wagtail

Common Sandpiper

African Hawk Eagle

Greenbacked Heron

Speckled Mousebird

Diederick Cuckoo

Whitewinged Widow

Nile Crocodile

Gymnogene

Hadeda Ibis

Threebanded Plover

Steelblue Widowfinch

Ground Hornbill

Pied Kingfisher

Greenshank

Dwarf Bittern

Giant Kingfisher

Great White Egret

Melba Finch

Leopard Tortoise

Ruff

Helmeted Guineafowl

Jameson’s Firefinch

Van Son’s Thicktoed Gecko

Burchell’s Coucal

Greybacked Camaroptera

Whitefaced Duck

Rock Martin

Little Swift

Wiretailed Swallow

Tropical Boubou

 



↑ Top